General Information

It is difficult to monitor blooms because the blooms may move, toxicity can change rapidly, and multiple toxins can be produced by the same bloom but not all of them can be tested for. Microcystin is the toxin that is tested for most often, but other toxins may be present during blooms as well. Microcystin concentration is measured by ELISA testing, which is an inexpensive test that can have results in just hours. ELISA tests for other toxins are now available, too. Tests for cell count may not be an accurate test for the toxicity of the bloom because the toxins may or may not be present even if there is a high cell count. At least 18 states have monitoring programs at this time and organizations such as the NOAA, CDC, EPA, USGS, and USFWS have monitoring information, but it is in many different databases.


For information on monitoring done on Lake Mendota, see HABs and Lake Mendota.

United States

Citizen ReportsWisconsin Department of Health Services Blue-Green Algae ProgramWisconsinThis program, which began in 2009, was designed to help prevent exposure to blue-green algae and aid in understanding of the public health problem caused by harmful algal blooms. The CDC and the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health are working together to ask people to report cases of human or animal exposure to cyanobacteria that have caused illness, and that information will be collected along with date, location, and possible water samples. The harmful algal bloom problem is too large for any one organization to handle, so this program aims to bring groups together to address the problem. eenalgae/index.h tm
Data CollectionEPAUnited StatesThe Water Quality Exchange is a framework that allows state and other agencies to share and view water quality data online in the STORET Data Warehouse. The STORET Legacy Data Center contains data from before 1999 and can still be accessed. The STORET Data Warehouse contains current data from 1999 and after and contains information on chemical and physical measurements, biological sampling, and habitat assessments.
Data CollectionUSGSUnited StatesThe National Water Information System has information on data collected from 1.5 million sites and stores information on long-term water data. Some instruments provide real-time data about pH, temperature, and other water quality parameters. Samples are also taken and analyzed by the USGS. Information about chlorophyll, phytoplankton, phosphorous, and cyanobacteria levels are all available. The USGS and EPA have an agreement to provide similar formats for NWIS and STORET to create a level of consistency.
In situ and Robotic SamplingNSFTested in Lake Fulmar, CAThe NSF supports development of a reactive observing system that provides real-time sampling by 12 buoys and robotic boats. They can monitor algae (and other micro-organism) concentrations and change their sampling routine based on observations.Page 21
Manual SamplingNebraska Department of Environmental Quality-Surface Water Monitoring and AssessmentNebraskaLakes are sampled every week or every two weeks for E.coli and microcystins by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and public alerts are sent out if levels are unsafe.
Manual SamplingNew Hampshire Department of Environmental ServicesNew HampshireOver 160 freshwater beaches are sampled once a month during the summer. Seven full time staff members and five interns sample surface scum on water. If a bloom or scum is reported, the water will be sampled within 24 hours and 24 hours after that results are obtained from tests for percent of toxin-producing cells. Warnings are posted if the levels are unsafe.
Manual SamplingOhio Division of Surface Water-Inland Lakes ProgramOhioThe Inland Lakes Program is increasing monitoring of lakes and is sampling for Microcystins. They also have a four phase proposal to educate, monitor, and predict blooms.
Manual SamplingDNRWisconsinIn 2004 and 2005, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conducted monitoring of blue-green algae in Wisconsin lakes to study the frequency, severity, and duration of harmful algal blooms, and which cyanobacteria were present in the water. Three samples were taken near the shores of five lakes in different regions of the state and eight ponds in south central Wisconsin five times during each summer, all of which were likely to produce blooms based on history or trophic state. The concentrations of anatoxin-a, microcystin-LR, and cylindrospermopsin were also measured using HPLC/MS/MS. Nearly 200 samples were taken each year, and blue-green algae were present in 74% of all samples collected. The DNR is not conducting routine testing for cyanobacteria or their toxins at this time.
Manual Sampling, Water Quality MonitoringCitizen Lake Monitoring ProgramWisconsinThe citizen monitoring program led by the WDNR and done in association with the University of Wisconsin-Extension began in 1986. Today there are over 1100 volunteers collecting data about more than 850 lakes throughout the state. Volunteers measure secchi disk depth, water chemistry, and biology, including aquatic invasive species and aquatic plants. Water chemistry volunteers collect data on water clarity, temperature, chlorophyll, phosphorous, and dissolved oxygen. For the chlorophyll and phosphorous data, water samples are taken and then sent to the State Laboratory of Hygiene for analysis. Data can be found by county.
SamplingUniversity of Vermont’s Rubenstein Ecosystem Science LaboratoryVermont, Lake ChamplainA monitoring program is established for blue-green algae along with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. Fourteen stations around Lake Champlain are sampled biweekly, along with Missisquoi Bay, St. Albans Bay, and Burlington Bay when there are blooms present. The Rubenstein Lab focuses on areas around the shoreline, and a group of volunteers monitor other shoreline areas by watching for blooms and taking samples every week.
Remote SensingNALMSUpper Midwest StatesIn order to address the problem that not enough water quality monitoring is being done in lakes, NALMS is assessing different remote sensing methods, such as Landsat, MODIS, and MERIS, in order to find a method that would be able to routinely monitor many lakes in a region.
Remote SensingSatellitesUnited StatesNASA’s EO-1 satellite and the Landsat-7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (EMT+) are able to measure spectral radiance of lakes. The EO-1 Hyperion measures radiance at 28 wavelengths while the EMT+ measures radiance in bands from 450-520 nm, 520-600 nm, and 630-690 nm and gives and average. The Landsat-7 covers the United States every 16 days and has been recording data for longer, and the EO-1 Hyperion takes narrower images and doesn’t cover all areas of the earth. The MERIS satellite can also be used to detect cyanobacterial blooms. It was launched in September 2002 and covers the earth in two or three days.
Remote SensingWisconsinViewWisconsinWisconsinView aims to coordinate remote sensing data across Wisconsin. They help bring data to the people that want to use it and work with other organizations to coordinate their efforts. WisconsinView also collects and processes satellite imagery and lets people access it for free for a variety of uses.
Remote SensingNASAWisconsinModerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) is an instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites. Together, the satellites get a complete picture of the earth every 1-2 days. MODIS images of Wisconsin can be found at
Remote Sensing,

Water Quality Monitoring
Satellite Remote SensingWisconsinThe University of Wisconsin Environmental Remote Sensing Center and Citizen Lake Monitoring program have been working together since 1999. By taking secchi disk depth reading on the days when the Landsat-5 or Landsat-7 satellites were over the lakes, the volunteers have helped the University create a computer program that can predict water quality parameters such as the secchi disk depth from satellite images. In 2003, a map of the 8,000 largest lakes in the entire state and their clarity was made using this technology. Images from the satellites were collected over the summers or 1999-2001 in order to get cloud-free images of each part of the state. The Thematic Mapper on the Landsat-5 and the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus on the Landsat-7 measure spectral radiance. The information gathered by volunteers on some of the lakes helped the researchers to calibrate the program, and then the program was used to calculate the clarity of the other lakes.
Remote Sensing, Particle Tracking ModelNOAA GLERLLake ErieAn algal bloom forecasting system for determining the location and intensity of harmful algal blooms was created, and during the summer of 2009 weekly experimental bulletins were posted about Microcystis blooms in Lake Erie. It was the first bulletin to be created for the Great Lakes and only the second one in the country. A surface reflectance of 681 nm from the MERIS satellite images is a good estimate of Microcystis concentrations and an algorithm for determining concentrations of cyanobacterial cells from surface reflectance was developed by the NOAA-NOS team. Data from the MERIS images was then put into a particle tracking model to predict bloom transport. Satellite imagery was monitored weekly and when there were harmful algal blooms the information was put into the tracking model. Samples were taken from boats in order to make sure that the predictions were accurate.
SurveyAwwaRFUnited StatesIn 1995, a survey of North America assessed the occurrence of cyanotoxins in sources of drinking water. Toxin occurrence was correlated to taste and odor compounds.
SurveyUSGSUnited StatesMany states do have programs in place to monitor or respond to blooms. This document provides information about the different programs that states have in place as of the summer of 2009.
Video MonitoringGreat Lakes Observing SystemGreat LakesThere are over 80 cameras located at shore and near-shore locations that are watched over by a variety of organizations and refreshed frequently as a part of the HarborView project. It was created to provide data about currents, winds, waves and weather to improve navigation of the Great Lakes. Some of the cameras view more of the lakes than others and they are not intended to gather information about harmful algal blooms.
Water Quality MonitoringNALMS, EPA, Kent State UniversityUnited States, WorldwideThe Secchi Dip-in is a national event held every summer. Volunteers can take one or more Secchi disc reading during the Dip-in and report their data to the WDNR or the Dip-in website. Kent State University sponsors the event and Bob Carlson, a professor there, looks for trends in the national data by using the Trophic State Index that he developed.
Water Quality Monitoring, OthersUSFWSTexas and New MexicoThe USFWS is monitoring golden algae as it spreads through the Pecos River. They are documenting blooms, evaluating recovery of ecosystems after blooms, and trying to identify what causes blooms to form by looking at land use.Page 3


Remote SensingNetherlandsThe Netherlands have used airborne remote sensing in coastal guard planes because it has a better resolution than satellite imagery. Total suspended matter and chlorophyll concentration can be detected.
SamplingBelgiumThe B-Blooms project aims to develop the necessary tools to create a monitoring network and warning system of harmful algal blooms for the country. Data will be entered into the database BLOOMBASE. They are monitoring two lakes and creating a sampling and observing system.
Sampling, monitoring environmental conditions (weather, etc)AustraliaThe Murray Regional Algal Coordinating Committee issues algal alerts when waters are unsafe due to cyanobacteria. Rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water are monitored by the Murray Regional Algal Coordinating Committee and an alert is issued if the concentration of cyanobacteria is above a certain level. The alert is sent out on radio, TV, in newspapers, and on their website.